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Rail structures suffer after Network Rail cash squeeze

Network Rail this week admitted that key infrastructure assets have deteriorated over the current five year financial control period because it failed to adequately explain why it needed extra funds to maintain structures and earthworks.

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Structures: Network Rail failed to make a strong enough investment case

The failure means that even more money will now be needed to bring them back up to a good condition in the next control period.

The admission was made in its Strategic Business Plan, published last week. This sets out its proposed spending for 2014 to 2019.

“In the last periodic review, the case was not fully established for our proposed increase in expenditure of around £300M,” it says.

As a result, the £37.5bn budget set out for the next control period (CP5) includes an extra £600M to improve the condition of Network Rail’s 30,000 structures and earthworks and to future proof them against perceived climate change risks like flooding, sea level rise and high winds.

It says: “During this control period [CP4] we have carried out extensive further analysis of the required activity and expenditure levels. This analysis supports a significant increase in renewals to address the previous under investment.”

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It cited three incidents caused by lack of maintenance to key structures. They are:

  • the collapse of a bridge at Stewarton in Ayrshire in 2009,
  • a derailment on the West Highland Line in 2010 caused by a rockfall,
  • failure in 2009 of a railway bridge spanning the River Crane in West London.

“Whilst not directly related to investment in a single control period (they) underline the need to significantly increase investment levels above those historically allocated to these assets,” said the document.

Network Rail said it had since developed new policies to determine what must be carried out in the forthcoming control period. These are based on “considerably improved” asset information and modelling, and represent “a step change from the single, generic, civils policy that had been used previously”.

Network Rail group strategy director Paul Plummer said the higher level of spending would also have to continue through Control Period 6 (CP6), which runs from 2019 to 2024, to address under investment, deal with the backlog and get structures and earthworks to a condition where they can be maintained “with a sustainable level of investment”.

The business plan - which will now be considered by the Office of Rail Regulation - includes proposals to invest more than £26bn in improving the UK rail network between 2014 and 2019.

Of this, £11bn would be spent on network enhancements, with 3,000km of track to be electrified. Around £6bn is needed for projects already underway, including Crossrail, Birmingham New Street station, Thameslink, the Great Western electrification and the Northern Hub.

The plan also commits Network Rail to improving efficiency by a further 18% on top of 27% and 20% improvements in the last two control periods. It plans to achieve this through alliances with train operating companies and better collaboration with the supply chain.

More effort will also go on research and development.

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